Friday, February 13, 2009


Our second day was a Monday, a day that all the museums are closed. Since a day in Bruges was on our must-do list, we hustled over the the Central train station and caught the next train to Bruges. An hour later, we were there.

The main ways to get into the Center of town and to Markt Square in the center of town are by walking a mile or so, taking a taxi, or by renting a bicycle. It seems that just about every train station, big or small, has bikes for rent. I'd say that about half the passengers on our train, rented bikes.

Much as I enjoy biking, riding on cobble stone streets, which seem to be the main pavement both in Bruges and Brussels, was a bit beyond my comfort level.

It was a lovely day and we opted to walk into town. We just followed the others from the train and found ourselves in the center of this charming town. Along the way, we got glimpses of some of the residential streets.

The first site that we came upon was the Sint-Janshospitaal. It also has a museum, which was closed, this being a Monday. Sint-Janshospitaal is a medieval hospital that treated the sick, homeless, and mad from the 12th century until 1976. It has the feel of a college campus. We just wandered around a bit.

The steeple of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-kerk, a church whose building started in 1220 (it took over 200 years to build), peeks out over much of the town. We first spotted the steeple above Sint-Janshospitaal. This was our next stop.

The church is open to the public and houses Michelangelo's Madonna and Child, the artist's only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. The church has other art works by famous artists. The tombs of Charles the Bold, ruler of Belgium from 1467 to 1477, and his daugher, Mary of Burgundy, can be seen in a small museum in the church.

By now we were hungry for lunch and just across the street from Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe-kerk we spotted a restaurant with a lovely outdoor patio, Marie van Bourgondie. This being a warm sunny day, we had lunch here. We both ordered Omelets and enjoyed a leisurely lunch outdoors.

Having seen the film In Bruges, I was on the lookout for familiar sites. I never figured out which bridge the main characters walked over any number of times, but every so often I felt like I was in the movie.

Some call Bruges the "Venice of the North" because of the network of canals that flow through the town.

Getting back to my trip to Belgium last fall, as you may recall, we stayed in Brussels for a week.

Finally, we arrived at the Markt, or central square, which was bustling with cars, busses, pedestrians, and horse drawn carriages. Restaurants and shops overlook the Markt.

The one site I was sure of was the Sint-Salvatorkathedraal which overlooks the Markt Square. The main characters in In Bruges climbed the belfry. J walked up one level to a visitor center but neither of us was up to climbing to the top.

We ended our day in Bruges with a walk down what seems to be the main shopping street, Steenstraat, which runs off the Markt. I did some shopping at the Tintin shop. Tintin is a cartoon character who was the creation of Belgian artist, Herge. Tintin and Herge seem to be something of national heros and I thought Tintin socks and other souvenirs were perfect gifts and remembrances of Belgium.

I also noticed Esprit stores in most Belgian shopping areas, including the the train station. Esprit was a California company whose clothing was very very popular in the 1970s and 1980s but which is rarely found in the United States today. It seems that Esprit lives on with its trendy, casual, colorful clothes, in Belgium, at least.

We caught the 4:31 p.m. train back to Brussels and we back to our hotel in time to rest a bit before heading out to dinner. The express trains seem to run every hour between Brussels and Bruges.

I really liked Bruges, possibly more than Brussels. Another time, I will stay a day or two in Bruges to be able to explore it in more depth. We got a nice overview on our day here and having all the museums closed allowed us to focus on just walking around and absorbing the local ambiance. It was good.

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